Independence Day 2021 will be ushered in with a bang for FINRA Dispute Resolution Services (“DRS”) constituents yearning for a return to in-person arbitration and mediation hearings. The Authority updated its Webpage around noon Eastern time today (May 10) to reflect that in-person hearings will resume in most hearing locations on July 5.

The Website now says: “Beginning July 5, 2021, FINRA DRS will reopen all of its hearing locations for in-person arbitration and mediation proceedings except for the following: Augusta, Boca Raton, Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia, Providence and Wilmington. FINRA DRS has postponed all in-person proceedings in these seven locations through July 30, 2021.” When hearings resume in July in the 62 locations, all COVID-19 safety protocols such as masking and social distancing will remain in place, and hearings for the time being will not be held at FINRA offices. FINRA has since March 2020 administratively postponed in-person hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last update pushed this date to July 2, with the proviso: “If all parties and arbitrators agree to proceed in-person based on their own assessment of public health conditions, the case may proceed provided that the in-person hearing participants comply with all applicable state and local orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

DRS Pressed to Resume In-Person Hearings

Our special issue – SAA 2021-15 (Apr. 28) – featured a single story, COVID-19s Continued Impact on ADR Providers. The Key Institutions Updates Us on Plans for the Future. We noted in a postscript that PIABA had sent to FINRA an April 26 letter urging the authority to resume in-person hearings. The letter, which was announced in a Press Release, also covered other issues related to the current suspension of in-person hearings, such as PIABA’s research showing that courts and other ADR providers have at least partially resumed in-person hearings, or plan to do so soon. The letter concluded: “FINRA needs to address the challenges that have been tackled by courts and other arbitration forums across the country to allow the dispute resolution process to move forward in-person. It is not an easy task, but if FINRA doesn’t move forward, it will ensure that investors will continue to languish without justice.”

Good News, Whatever the Source

We said in #15: “We will track whether FINRA responds to PIABA, which we are certain it will. We’ll also look for FINRA’s next update to its July 2 ‘administratively postponed’ date, which typically happens the first week of the month.” Whether  pressure from PIABA was the proximate cause of the change in policy remains to be seen, although we suspect DRS has been focused for a while on in-person hearing resumption. Either way, the good news is that in-person hearings are resuming in almost 90% of the DRS hearing locations, including New York City.

(ed: *This is wonderful news! We’ll continue to track the seven locations. **No word on when staff will be returning to the office, although we expect that will roll out in stages.)

This post first appeared on the Securities Arbitration Alert blog.  The blog’s editor-in-chief is George H. Friedman, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Arbitartion Resolution Services, Inc.